Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rashi script* and other Hebrew examples in Pantographia from 1799

Over at the Main Line I posted about a beautiful book called Pantographia; containing accurate copies of all the known alphabets in the world; together with an English explanation of the peculiar force or power of each letter (by Edmund Fry, London, 1799).

Great examples of many different kinds of alphabets included, with sources given. In addition, the Lord's Prayer is presented in each alphabet (and language) along with English transliteration. It is the nature of the beast that such a work would include lots of examples which look a little bit strange to the modern eye that has seen many of the actual scripts, as opposed to Western renderings of them (see, e.g.).

From his presentation of Hebrew (pp. 142-151):

1. The regular Hebrew script:

The source given for this example is Claude Duret, which is to say it is from a 16th century book.

Later an example of the modern Hebrew is given:

2. This one, also from Duret, is described "very early used by the Jewish Rabbis
in Germany, by whom it was much esteemed, as a handsome current letter, and easy to be written on account of its roundness, wherefore they generally used it in their commentaries-
and translations."

That is, it's purports to be an Ashkenazic script.**

3. This one is a Sephardic script, also from Duret, but it cites as an authority notable Hebraist Sebastian Muenster.**

4. To me this one is the most interesting. As you can see, it's the script we call Rashi script:

"The alphabet of Rabbinical Hebrew, of which there are three sizes at the Type-Street Foundery."

And a typical printed example is supplied (but no source is given):

* I know; don't hassle me. Mashait, blah blah.

**It's worth comparing with these two charts from the Jewish Encylopedia entry on the Hebrew alphabet (click to enlarge):


Monday, July 23, 2007

A rationalist 19th century British interpretation of a Talmudic oracle

Being that we are on the eve of Tisha B'av, I thought it would be interesting to see an interpretation, or rather reinterpretation, of a famous incident from Gittin 56 (the Gemara which recounts the fall of Jerusalem, which many people study on Tisha B'Av).

The specific piece reads as follows

שדר עלוייהו לנירון קיסר כי קאתי שדא גירא למזרח אתא נפל בירושלים למערב אתא נפל בירושלים לארבע רוחות השמים אתא נפל בירושלים א"ל לינוקא פסוק לי פסוקיך אמר ליה (יחזקאל כה) ונתתי את נקמתי באדום ביד עמי ישראל וגו' אמר קודשא בריך הוא בעי לחרובי ביתיה ובעי לכפורי ידיה בההוא גברא ערק ואזל ואיגייר ונפק מיניה ר"מ

He [the Emperor] sent against them Nero the Caesar. As he was coming he shot an arrow towards the east, and it fell in Jerusalem. He then shot one towards the west, and it again fell in Jerusalem. He shot towards all four points of the compass, and each time it fell in Jerusalem. He said to a certain boy: Repeat to me [the last] verse of Scripture you have learnt. He said: (Ezekiel 25) And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel. He said: The Holy One, blessed be He, desires to lay waste his House and to lay the lame on me. So he ran away and became a proselyte, and R. Meir was descended from him.

In 1882, שבת שקלים, Hermann Adler (1839-1911), Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire, delivered a sermon about the plight of Russian Jewry, a theme which justly occupied the attention and concern of Western Jews at that time.

As you can see, the sense of the passage is that Nero asked the boy what verse of Scripture had learned and took it as an oracle. R. Adler, however, responding to the needs of his time interprets it very differently:

"Now, think not, my brethren, that this was a superstitious practice, or a kind of divination. Our Synagogue fathers knew full well that, in a time of national stress, the wise schoolmaster would teach his young charges such Bible texts as would afford some comfort, guidance, and wise practical counsel how to meet the crisis."
But it can easily be seen that such a method was seen as oracular by the Sages themselves, by comparing this with the other instances where the פסוק לי פסוקיך method occurs; e.g., Gittin 67b-68a

א"ל ריש גלותא לרב ששת מ"ט לא סעיד מר גבן א"ל דלא מעלו עבדי דחשידי אאבר מן החי א"ל מי יימר אמר ליה השתא מחוינא לך א"ל לשמעיה זיל גנוב אייתי לי חדא כרעא מחיותא אייתי ליה אמר להו אהדמו לי הדמי דחיותא אייתו תלת כרעי אותיבו קמיה אמר להו הא בעלת שלש רגלים הואי פסוק אייתו חדא מעלמא אותיבו קמיה אמר ליה לשמעיה אותביה נמי להך דידך אותבה אמר להו האי בת חמש רגלים הואי אמר ליה אי הכי ליעבדו קמיה <שמעיה> דמר וליכול א"ל לחיי קריבו תכא קמייהו ואייתו קמיה בישרא ואותיבו קמיה ריסתנא דחנקא חמתא גששיה ושקלה כרכה בסודריה לבתר דאכיל אמרי ליהאיגניב לן כסא דכספא בהדי דקא מעייני ואתי אשכחוה דכרוכה בסודריה אמרי ליה חזי מר דלא מיכל קא בעי אלא לצעורן אמר להו אנא מיכל אכלי וטעמי ביה טעמא דחיורא אמרי ליה חיורא לא עביד לן האידנא אמר להו בדקו בדוכתיה דאמר רב חסדא אוכמא בחיורא וחיורא באוכמתא לקותא היא בדוק אשכחוה כי קא נפיק כרו ליה בירא ושדו ליה ציפתא עילויה ואמרי ליה ליתי מר לינח נחר ליה רב חסדא מאחוריה אמר ליה לינוקא פסוק לי פסוקיך אמר ליה (שמואל ב ב) נטה לך על ימינך או על שמאלך אמר ליה לשמעיה מאי קא חזית אמר ליה ציפיתא דשדיא אמר ליה הדר מינה לבתר דנפק אמר ליה רב חסדא מנא הוה ידע מר אמר ליה חדא דנחר לי מר ועוד דפסק לי ינוקא פסוקא ועוד דחשידי עבדי דלא מעלו

The Exilarch once said to R. Shesheth, Why will your honour not dine with us? He replied: Because your servants are not reliable, being suspected of taking a limb from a living animal. You don't say so, said the Exilarch. He replied, I will just show you. He then told his attendant to steal a leg from an animal and bring it. When he brought it to him he said [to the Servants of the Exilarch], place the pieces of the animal before me. They brought three legs and placed them before him. He said to them, This must have been a three-legged animal. They then cut a leg off an animal and brought it. He then said to his attendant, Now produce yours. He did so, and he then said to them, This must have been a five-legged animal. The Exilarch said to him, That being the case, let them prepare the food in your presence and then you can eat it. Very good, he replied. They brought up a table and placed meat before him, and set in front of him a portion with a dangerous bone. He felt it and took and wrapped it in his scarf. When he had finished they said to him, A silver cup has been stolen from us.1 In the course of their search for it they found the meat wrapped in his scarf, whereupon they said to the Exilarch, See, sir, that he does not want to eat, but only to vex us. He said, I did eat, but I found in it the taste of a boil. They said to him, No animal with a boil has been prepared for us to-day. He said to them, Examine the place [where my portion came from]. since R. Hisda has said that a white spot on black skin or a black spot on white skin is a mark of disease. They examined and found that it was so. When he was about to depart they dug a pit and threw a mat over it, and said to him, Come, sir, and recline. R. Hisda snorted behind him. and he said to a boy. Tell me the last verse you have learnt. The boy said. Turn thee aside to thy right hand or to thy left. He said to his attendant, What can you see? He replied. A mat thrown across [the path]. He said, Turn aside from it. When he got out, R. Hisda said to him, How did you know, sir? He replied. For one thing because you, sir, snorted [behind me], and again from the verse which the boy quoted, and also because the servants are suspect of playing tricks.

in this case, the servants of the ריש גלותא were laying a trap for רב ששת and he used a schoolchild's verse to let him know what to do. Was this a time of national or person stress? רב ששת is using פסוק לי פסוקיך for it's oracular ability.

Finally, and more clearly, Hullin 95b

רב בדיק במברא ושמואל בדיק בספרא רבי יוחנן בדיק בינוקא כולהו שני דרב הוה כתב ליה רבי יוחנן לקדם רבינו שבבבל כי נח נפשיה הוה כתב לשמואל לקדם חבירינו שבבבל אמר לא ידע לי מידי דרביה אנא כתב שדר ליה עיבורא דשיתין שני אמר השתא חושבנא בעלמא ידע כתב שדר ליה תליסר גמלי ספקי טריפתא אמר אית לי רב בבבל איזיל איחזייה א"ל לינוקא פסוק לי פסוקיך אמר ליה (שמואל א כח) ושמואל מת אמר ש"מ נח נפשיה דשמואל ולא היא לא שכיב שמואל אלא כי היכי דלא ליטרח רבי יוחנן

Rab used to regard a ferry-boat as a sign. Samuel a [passage in a] book, and R. Johanan [a verse quoted] by a child. During the lifetime of Rab, R. Johanan used to address him thus in his letters: Greetings to our Master in Babylon! After Rab's death R. Johanan used to address Samuel thus: Greetings to our colleague in Babylon! Said Samuel to himself, ‘Is there nothing in which I am his master’? He thereupon sent [to R. Johanan] the calculations for the intercalation of months for sixty years. Said [R. Johanan], ‘He only knows mere calculations’. So he [Samuel] wrote out and sent [R. Johanan] thirteen camel loads of questions concerning doubtful cases of trefah. Said [R. Johanan], ‘It is clear that I have a Master in Babylon; I must go and see him’. So he said to a child, ‘Tell me the [last] verse you have learnt’. He answered: ‘Now Samuel was dead’. Said [R. Johanan], ‘This means that Samuel has died’. But it was not the case; Samuel was not dead then, and [this happened] only that R. Johanan should not trouble himself.

In this case we see most clearly that פסוק לי פסוקיך is regarded as a sign. (And, as it happens, in this case the sign was misleading, albeit deliberately so). The practice itself, called bibliomancy, was used and taken quite literally among Jews in early modern Europe. A variation, called gorel ha-gr"a, persists even today.

This specific sermon was printed in R. Adler's collection Anglo-Jewish memories, and other sermons (1909: New York). In the introduction, he notes that he had recently reached his 70th birthday: "During the present month I shall, by Divine mercy, complete the threescore years and ten ordinarily allotted to man." In addition, it had been about 50 years since he had delivered his first derasha on behalf of his father R. Nathan Adler, who was sick on that occasion. In honor of these anniversaries he decided to publish some of his discourses, with prominence given to "those delivered on occasions which moved our hearts both as Englishmen and as Jews."

You can download the entire "Cry of Our Russian Brethren" sermon here.

All in all, a most interesting, very 19th century interpretation of a well-known Talmudic passage.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Lonely tefillin in an Indian mound.

One day in 1815 Captain Joseph Merrick of Pittsfield, Massachusets plowed his field on his farm, built on what had been called "Indian Hill" in the 18th century (later a fort was established there in 1754, and so in his time it was called "Fort Hill."

In turning up the earth out popped tefillin--which is what it proved to be, although he didn't know it. A local resident named Elkanah Watson (note the last name; don't be fooled by the first) heard about it and went to investigate. At Merrick's house he found several Christian clergymen, all of whom were excited, realizing it must have belonged to a Jew. This Watson knew of the theory that the Native American Indians were descended from the ten lost tribes of Israel, and was excited.

What is interesting is that he claimed to compare "this phylactery with those described in the Old Testament." I'd like to know where! In any case, he wrote that they "are described in Scripture as composed of five folds of raw hide or leather, sewed completely together by the entrails of animals. In order to understand the appearance of this discovery, imagine five pieces of leather or raw hide, or some composition similar to India rubber, and capable of resisting the ravages of time and exposure, cut into squares of two inches, sewed together with entrails. Suppose, also a hole in the center, half an inch in diameter made to admit a tube two and a half inches long with eyelet holes at the corners to receive strings--and you will have an idea of this article."

In any event, Watson described the difficulty of opening it and how he "drew out from the tube three of four scrolls of parchment, which it contained when found, and inscribed with texts of Scripture, written in beautiful Hebrew in an elegant manner, and the ink of a beautiful jet black. The parchment, writing, ink, were all perfectly fresh."

Locals declared that it belonged to early Jewish settlers in Pittsfield, perhaps one from Germany who was remembered, who had since gone.

On the other hand, some investigators wished that it were Indian, and so declared that it was (the hill happened also to be an Indian burial ground).

Lee M. Friedman, whose article "The Phylacteries Found at Pittsfield, Mass," PAJHS, 1917, 25, pp. 81-85 is where this info comes from, noted that upon investigation an Isaac Isaacs appeared on the Pittsfield military rolls of 1780-1781. However, he sees no evidence that this person was Jewish and in fact might have belonged to the non-Jewish Isaacs of Connecticut.

On the other hand, five separate men called Isaac Isaacs show up in the 18th century in A Biographical Dictionary of Early American Jews by Joseph R. Rosenbloom. However, they are all in New York City or Long Island, and even if one of them is also Isaac Isaacs in the army in Pittsfield, we still haven't even come close to showing that the tefillin were his.



Monday, May 21, 2007

On the Pinner Talmud: Chasam Sofer, the Czar, Shadal and little known Big Ideas.

Part of the story of the Pinner Talmud is here.

This edition, from 1842, was a translation project undertaken by Dr. Ephraim Moses Pinner (1800-1880), intending to translate the entire Talmud (both Bavli and Yerushalmi) into German. Pinner had been a student of R. Ya'akov of Lissa. He garnered some rabbinic support, and financing from Czar Nicholas I.

Only one volume appeared, Berakhot: "Talmud Babli; Babylonischer Talmud. Tractat Berachoth Segensprüche. Mit deutscher Ubersetzung und den Commentaren Raschi und Tosephoth nebst den verschiedenen Verbesserungen aller früheren Ausgaben. Hinzugefügt sind: Neue Lesarten und Parallelstellen in allen Theilen dieses Tractates und der Commentare, Vokalisation der Mischnah, Interpunktion der Mischnah und Gemara, Raschi und Tosephoth, Etymologie und Uebertragung der fremden Wörter, Erklärungen des Meharschal und Meharscha, R. Ascher mit Erläuterung der Halachah und den abweichenden Lesarten, R. Moscheh's Sohnes R. Maimon's, Commentar zur Mischnah mit Berichtigungen, Einleitung in den Talmud, enthaltend Grundprincipien der Methodologie und Exegetik des Talmud."

In the introduction to this volume he wrote:

"[Nowadays many Jews are unable to study Talmud in the original; those who know it can't teach it] Up to now no one has undertaken to translate the Talmud into the vernacular, and there are even some who have distorted the Talmud and accused the rabbis of saying things they never would have said. Therefore, I have taken upon myself to translate the Talmud into German."

That is, there are two reasons: 1) to open the Talmud to Jews and 2) to counter hostile non-Jewish mis-impressions about the Talmud.

What of the Czar's support? According to Adam Mintz (from whom much of this information was drawn) he supported the translation for two reasons: 1) at the time he was trying to Russify Russia's Jews via cultural and religious restrictions on the Jews. This included the discouragement of the use of Yiddish and the encouragement of the use of European languages, like German, which was close to Yiddish and therefore a practical replacement. 2) As a real antisemite, Nicholas commissioned a report to understand what's wrong with the Jews. The report issued found that the Talmud was the cause of the refusal of the Jews to assimilate into Russian society. Nicholas felt that exposing the Talmud would ameliorate this problem, and to do so would require translating it into European languages, and he was prepared to pay handsomely for such translations.

Thus, Pinner planned to use Nicholas and Nicholas planned to use Pinner. Nicholas purchased 100 volumes of Pinner's translation, and so when it was printed, it was dedicated to him! In addition to Nicholas, there were about a thousand subscribers, including Kings Frederick Wilhelm IV of Prussia, Wilhelm I of Holland, Leopold of Belgium and Frederick IV of Denmark.

At the beginning of the volume were 18 haskamot from both traditional rabbis and maskilim. The volume itself was evidently aesthetically pleasing. It included the traditional layout with German translation on the facing pages. In addition, punctuation was supplied for Rashi and Tosafos. At the bottom of each page he included a translation and etymology of selected difficult words.

When Pinner tried to acquire a haskamah from the Chasam Sofer, the latter was incredulous on the grounds that a vernacular translation is basically impossible given that the plain understanding of Rashi alone is subject to many disagreements, so how could anyone think they could manage such a translation? Pinner assured him that he didn't mean that he would do the whole thing himself, rather he would have a team and he would be the editor. One of the rabbis who would serve as translators was R. Nathan Adler (then rabbi of Hanover; later Chief Rabbi of Great Britain). Pinner claimed that he had lined up R. Adler to translate Eruvin and Yevamos. The Chasam Sofer accepted this, and wrote a haskamah.

As it turned out, Pinner had been playing loose with the truth. Pinner used R. Adler's name to receive this haskamah, and then used the Chasam Sofer's haskamah to get more. Apparently R. Adler denied any involvement at all. When the Chasam Sofer found out, he retracted his haskamah. Not only that, when it became known that Pinner continued to use the haskamah, Chasam Sofer issues a kol koreh asking rabbis to ban the printing, buying and reading of the work.

Shadal too did not offer a haskamah on similar grounds (his letter on the matter was printed in Keren Hemed 2 (1836) pp. 174-182. In addition to highlighting certain errors he felt Pinner had made he questioned whether one man could indeed translate the entire Talmud, noting that even Rashi could not complete his commentary on the Talmud.

Interestingly enough, another objection to the work arose in some quarters, best exemplified by a letter written to the Chasam Sofer by a Dutch rabbi, Tzvi Hirsch Lehrin. In it he noted that if there had been so much opposition to Mendelssohn's Bible, which was only a translation into German with Hebrew letters, how much more so must there be something faulty with a Talmud translated into German with German letters! In addition, argued R. Lehrer, although Pinner might have been motivated le-shem shamayim, to defend the honor of the Talmud before detractors, the opposite would occur once its contents were accessible: opponents would use it to denigrate the Sages, noting that a classic denigration of Talmudic Judaism by wayward Jews is the case of the egg laid on a holiday, deemed irrelevant. How much more so would non-Jewish opponents of the Talmud use this translation against it!

Interesting as well is that this was not the Chasam Sofer's objection.

Ultimately the Czar discovered his true motive and support was withdrawn, which was why only Berakhot ever appeared.

So on what basis can this post, about an aborted German Talmud be an English Hebraica post?

On this basis: I discovered a very interesting review of this edition from 1848, by one William Ayerst (1803-1883), in a book called The Jews of the Nineteenth Century: A Collection of Essays, Reviews, and Historical Notices.

Here it is:

Much of the information in this post was gleaned from "The Talmud in Translation," by Adam Mintz in "Printing the Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein" and the Encylopedia Judaica article, "Pinner, Moses Ephraim."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Unexpected Recanati quote in a 17th century English Hebraica publication.

This little booklet from 1647 is basically a compendium of Biblical Hebrew synoyms transliterated into Latin characters, with the occasional definition given in Latin (authored by John Beaton).

What's quite interesting is the Hebrew motto on this frontspiece, which reads

:אין בתורה אפילו אות אחת שאין הררים גדולים תלויים בה

"There isn't even a single letter in the Torah which doesn't support great mountains."

This is a quote from the Kabbalistic Torah commentary by R. Menachem Recanati (a 13th century rabbi from Recanati, Italy) on Deut. 10:17.

Here is the entire passage in context:

(יז) כי יי' אלהיכם וגו' [שם יז]. כבר הודעתיך כמה פעמים כי אין בתורה אפילו אות אחת שאין הררין גדולים תלויים בה, והבן כי הזכיר כאן כי השם המיוחד תחלה, ואחריו אלהי האלהים, ואחריו אדוני האדונים. וכן במזמור הודו ליי' כי טוב [תהלים קלו, א] אחריו הודו לאלהי האלהים, ואחריו הודו לאדני האדונים. והרמז בהם לג' הויות הראשונות, ועל הראשון הזכיר לעושה נפלאות גדולות לבדו כענין הנאמר בספר יצירה [פ"א מ"א] בל"ב נתיבות פליאות חכמה, ועל השני אמר לעושה השמים בתבונה, ועל השלישי לרוקע הארץ על המים וגו

Interestingly, the English book "corrects" one word, exchanging הררים for הררין, for the latter is a Mishnaic Hebrew form (with it's ן ending)--although it is possible that the Recanati text Beaton saw had הררים. In addition, the text is pointed, almost certainly not the case in the edition the editor of this work read, as it is not the practice among Jews to point texts which aren't biblical (and today, also prayer books, poetry and children's books). I suppose the pointing was meant to display erudition, as an aid the reader but also ideologically driven (see footnote 4 to this post, as well as this post).

There is this nifty poem on the second page, a plea to learn Hebrew and spread Hebrew

At Babels building tongues confounded were,
The gift of tongues doth new-Hierus'lem reare,
By language lost Japhet was forc't to stray
From tents of blessed Sem, the ready way
Of his reduction is for every man
To learne anew the tongue of Canaan.
Lo here, a Scholar of great Broughton brings
Some stones and timber-work, free-offerings
To help the building, if that every one
By his example would but bring a stone,
One single beame, or plank, few yeares would show
Hierusalem high-builded, Babel low.
Few yeares would bring that day when Nations all
Will Hallelu-jah sing at Babel's fall.

(typed out so that Google can index it)

Here is a sample of the work itself

As you can see, these are the 12 stones from Aaron's breastplate (Ex 28:17).

Two more examples. Names of God:

and this one, under the entry that begins with גו, a definition from Ibn Ezra

Yes, "vagina"did mean "sheath" or "scabbard" in Latin.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

'Pardes,' from a 'Talmud Babylonicum' introduction: complete with a gaping anachronism.

In the October 1867 issue of the British periodical the Quarterly Review appeared an article called "Talmud Babylonicum," which meant to inform readers "What is the Talmud?" The article noted (claimed?) that "Turn where we may in the realms of modern learning, we seem to be haunted by it," and "that strange production of which the name, imperceptibly almost, is beginning to take its place among the household words of Europe." In short, this article was meant for the curious.

I uploaded the whole thing for download.

Here is an interesting excerpt:

Nothing new, of course, but it is noteworthy that at this relatively late date (1867) Jewish learning was still sufficiently shrouded in mystery that a simple anachronism is committed: pardes as an acronym for peshat, remez, derush and sod is a medieval mnemonic and thus does not apply to anything related to the Talmud, much less to the period of Chronicles (given that the term midrash first appears in that book), when this article assumes the term came into use!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Wacky Hebrew etymologies

From a review of the 1837 Complete Hebrew and English Critical and Pronouncing Dictionary by William L. Roy:

Take a look, particularly, at the etymology it gives for the word mol מל, to circumcise:

"From yom, a day, an al, a yoke" et cetera


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